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(Acts 28:1–10) Island of Refuge

(Acts 28:1–10) Island of Refuge

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 28:1–10

Everyone needs the Lord. And no one is beyond saving. From an evil dictator to your annoying next-door neighbor . . . are you praying for your enemies?

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Acts 28:1-10

When we last left the Apostle Paul, he was swimming for shore in the middle of a hurricane.  Two hundred, seventy-six passengers, now shipwrecked by the storm, swam for their lives while others clung to pieces of wood and allowed the crashing waves to bring them to shore; to an unfamiliar shore, by the way.  In fact, they won’t know until some moments later that they have washed up on the island of Malta.

I found it interesting to discover that the word Malta means “place of refuge; safe haven.”  Although Paul and the others survived the hurricane and now huddled on the beach exhausted, dripping wet and cold in those wintry winds, the word of the Lord through Paul had come true.  No one had been killed in the shipwreck or drowned at sea; all of them had made it safely to the Island of Refuge.

You might like to know that in 1964 this little island, barely 17 miles long, gained its independence from Great Britain.  However, long before that day, many of Malta’s citizens were about to be liberated from the kingdom of darkness by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This island will hold some fascinating adventures for Paul, and it will reveal some surprising things for us as well.

A Revelation of Hospitality

I invite you to rejoin the castaways in Acts 28 :1 And when they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 And the natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.

I think one of the first surprising revelations to Paul and the others was the hospitality of the natives.  Exhausted and still dripping wet from their swim to shore, Paul and the survivors could have easily still died from exposure.   The cold November wind and rain were their enemies now.  It seems that Luke was especially moved by their kindness due to the words he penned in his journal.  Notice again verse 2 – “they showed us extraordinary kindness.”

That’s another way of saying, “I couldn’t believe the way these people treated total strangers.”  And don’t forget, by the way, that among the castaways there were criminals - government prisoners guarded by soldiers.

These islanders were helping prisoners; they were showing hospitality to total strangers.

I couldn’t help but think that this is an illustration of the church. 

Romans 12:13 – “practicing hospitality” – You only practice something that you can do better.  So the fact that he tells us to practice hospitality is because none of us are naturally good at it.  Oh, some are better than others, but everyone is to practice.

The word could be rendered, “to hunt, to pursue the opportunity, to initiate showing care for others.”

You can’t help but be amazed, as I’m sure many others were by what happened here in the latter part of verse 2 again, “they kindled a fire and received us all.”  Prisoner, commander, soldier, sailor alike.  What incredible hospitality!

A Revelation of Character

I want you to notice a revelation of Paul’s character in verse 3.   But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand.

Now, understand that the revelation of Paul’s character is not found in the fact that he was bitten by a snake and didn’t scream or faint – or any of those options I would have chosen.

No, the revelation of his character is in the first few words of verse 3.  But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks.

What’s Paul doing gathering firewood while everyone else is warming up by the fire?  Paul’s the man of the hour.

He is solely responsible for their safety; he had become, in practical terms, their leader.  He should be on the front row roasting marshmallows and sipping hot chocolate; not out in the storm gathering sticks for the bon fire.

The truth is, Paul had character.   Someone once wrote, “It is only the little man who will refuse the little task.”

Paul reveals his humility in this act of service.

I remember reading a story about a man who wanted to develop more humility before people.  So he painted a scripture verse sandwich board – one board in the front and another in the back - and walked down main street during rush hour with these Bible verses in front and on back.  He said while he was out there walking back and forth, enduring the stares and snickers of people, he found himself saying to the Lord, “You know, Lord, there aren’t very many people willing to do this for You anymore.”

That’s the trouble with humility.  The moment you think you have it, you've proven you don’t.  The moment you believe you are, you aren’t.

That’s why you don’t arrive at humility; you act with humility.  I Peter 5 said, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

The word clothe refers to the tying of a slave's apron around your waist as you prepare to serve someone else.

Here’s the great Apostle with an apron tied about his waist…and, if you missed it, it is while in the process of serving that he is bitten by a poisonous snake. 


Interrupted by Suffering

4.  And when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.”  5.  However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm.

Now between verse 5 and verse 6, I think Doctor Luke rushed to Paul’s side and said, “Paul, are you alright?  Here, let me look at that hand.”

“That’s odd . . . there doesn’t seem to be any swelling, Paul; are you in pain . . . no?  That’s amazing!”

Here is the revelation of power predicted by Christ years earlier for His apostles.  They could be bitten by serpents, Mark 16:15 said, and be unaffected.

You say, “I want to do that today!”  Well, go ahead and grab that rattler by the tail.  Your story will be much different.  You see, you forgot, you’re not an apostle.

There are people in snake handling movements today who die; and nearly every year I read about some more of them.

This revelation of power validated the Apostle of God, who, without the validation of scripture as the litmus test, could prove he was indeed from God.

On this island, the people were still confused; they thought he was God.

Notice 6.  But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

They don’t know if Paul is a murderer or a deity.

Did you happen to notice here that Paul was called to suffer still a little more?  Oh, he didn’t swell up, or die; but imagine the shock and the pain of the snake’s fangs digging into your hand.

Why the suffering here?  Hasn’t God allowed Paul to go through enough?

One of my commentary friends took some time to refresh my memory over the different kinds of suffering believers are often surprised by and have to endure.  Let me refresh your memory.

1) common suffering – This is simply the result of our fallenness.  Those diseases and aches and pains and funeral services are constant, common reminders that we’re part of a fallen race.  And we look for a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more common suffering.

2) corrective suffering – This is the discipline of the believer for disobedience taught in Hebrews 12.


Then there is 3) constructive suffering – This is suffering that produces perseverance and spiritual maturity as James 1 tells us.  Even the Lord as a man learned obedience through the things that he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)

Finally, there is 4) Christ-glorifying suffering.  Suffering that allows God’s power to be revealed.  That’s what Paul just became involved in here. 

And get ready for another revelation of apostolic, Christ glorifying power.

A Revelation of Power

7.  Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days.  8.  And it came about that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. (this healing power by the way was also the validation of the Apostle according to Hebrews chapter 2 and Mark chapter 16)  9.  And after this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured.  (In other words, when Paul left the island of Malta, the hospital was empty – disease had been annihilated) 10.  And they also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.

Let’s make some application for those who have found themselves shipwrecked on strange islands under unforseen and unplanned events of life.


  • Sometimes God sends encouragement in the most unlikely environment.

Paul expected to be encouraged by his arrival in Rome not being shipwrecked on the Island of Malta.

If we were Paul, you and I would have been saying, as we dried out beside that roaring fire, “Okay, Lord, spell it out for me – I don’t understand.”

There’s no answer from heaven, but it isn’t long before Paul warms up to this Phoenician hospitality and discovers a people who are ready to hear the truth of Christ.

You know, if you look over Paul’s ministry past, you discover that nearly every town Paul entered, he was kicked out of, run out of, stoned, beaten, mistreated . . . but not here.  The final moments between Paul and these Phoenicians are easy to miss; so let’s go back and drink in a rare moment for the Apostle in chains.  verse 10. And they also honored us with many marks or honors of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.

That’s encouragement, sent by God in the most unlikely place and from the most surprising source.

  • Sometimes God requires availability and trust at the most unprepared times.

Trust was placed in God during the storm; after being bitten by a snake – now I’m sure most of us won’t go through

that scene exactly like Paul, but the question remains, what is it in your life that challenges your faith in God’s care

and providence??

When do you feel most unprepared for life’s twists and turns?

Suppose Paul had crawled up in a corner somewhere and put a sign on his door that read, “Do not disturb!”  “Leave me alone – I don’t want to be here on this island – I want to be in Rome.”  He would have missed the moment; he would have not been in the position to serve others and, in the final analysis, richly served by others.

And that leads me to the final lesson:

  • Sometimes God produces fruit in the most unusual harvest fields.

Ministering to people occurred at a time when Paul could have curled up and waited for the next boat to come along and the next order from the commander…besides, God had already made it clear that he was headed for Rome – real ministry would take place before the Emperor. 

How many men on their way to see the emperor would care to speak to barbarians?

Frankly, Malta wasn’t on Paul’s ministry map.  And there’s no telling how long it would have been before these people on this little island heard the gospel had Paul been silent.

Paul could have easily justified his silence; “Surely these primitive people wouldn’t be interested anyway. They’re pagans who believe in their Phoenician superstitions; they’d never listen to talk of one true God and our Savior Jesus Christ."

Like that relative – or that co-worker – or that child – or that neighbor – they’d never be interested.  But Paul was willing to get involved with people in a place he’d never even considered before.  And according to church history, an evangelical church on Malta dates from the time of his brief stay.  That’s right - in fact, even to this day, the place where Paul and his companions swam to shore is called St. Paul’s Bay.  Oh, and by the way, the first pastor of the church on Malta, church historians record, was a man named Publius.

So this strange island of castaways became, indeed, an island of refuge, of ministry, encouragement and spiritual fruit.

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